Not all patients have reached the place where they have accepted that they have a substance use disorder and need help. They may insist that they are in control of their use and be hesitant to make the changes that they need. Or perhaps they have gone through the initial stages of treatment in the past but didn’t keep up with their recovery. Offering help to someone who doesn’t want it can be very discouraging, and for some medical professionals, it may be enough to make them want to give up altogether. However, recovery is an ongoing process that takes time. Thus, it is important to learn how to meet clients where they are, not where we want them to be, and expect them to make some mistakes along the way.

The Value of Listening Over Lecturing 

Every medical professional wants their patients to make the best possible choices for their overall health. They can encourage them in every way they can to give up unhealthy choices and follow the advice they have been given. Although, at the end of the day, it is the patient alone who can make the positive changes. Treatment professionals will come across patients who are ambivalent and unsure if they can or want to follow the warnings they have been given regarding their substance misuse. They may still be in a place where they think they are in control of their addiction. When a treatment professional’s method is compiled of only lecturing and trying to pressure their patient to change, they make themselves less able to listen and, in turn, less able to help.

What fears does the patient have? What is their reasoning behind their hesitation to get treatment? Maybe there are circumstances in their life that are making it difficult for them to commit to getting the help they need. Treatment professionals need to get the answers to these questions and not expect their patients to make all the right choices immediately. Holding patients to unrealistic expectations can not only lead to extreme pressure but also may cause them to turn away from treatment entirely.

Learning to Engage with the Patient 

If a patient doesn’t want help with their addiction, what are they doing at a treatment center in the first place? They could have been ordered there by the legal system or been approached about their substance use disorder by a loved one. Many people seek out the beginning stages of treatment to placate worried family members without truly having the intention of becoming sober. It’s with these individuals especially that it is important to engage with an open mind and learn more about their life circumstances.

Throughout this process, the treatment professional can begin to look at the patient’s substance use habits through their own eyes and get a better understanding of their addiction. Do they engage in substance use because they have an undiagnosed mental health condition like anxiety or depression? Do they engage in substance use because they have gone through trauma and don’t believe there is any other way of experiencing relief? By discussing these topics, treatment professionals can establish a better understanding of how to help the individual and build a sense of trust between themselves and the patient.

Instead of trying to solve a patient’s problems for them, treatment professionals can strive to develop an open discourse. Initially, keep things focused on the present. Asking the patient simple questions can help medical professionals get a better understanding of the patient’s mental health state and how their addiction is affecting them. Some example questions include:

  • How are you feeling right now?
  • What do you consider is one of the main problems in your life currently? 
  • What would it take to help make you feel better or make life easier? 
  • What can I do right now to help you?

These questions can help a patient recognize what the root problem is in their life and get a better idea of what needs to be done to resolve it. 

Celebrating Small Victories

Maybe the patient isn’t yet able to commit to their sobriety. That doesn’t mean that a treatment professional can’t still celebrate the small victories in their patients’ lives. Some examples of life events worth celebrating include: 

  • Going to their first AA or NA meeting 
  • Acknowledging and accepting that they have a substance use disorder
  • Seeking treatment for a mental health condition
  • Leaving an unhealthy relationship
  • Being honest with their closest loved ones about their addiction
  • Trying to cut back or quit engaging in substance use

As much as every substance use treatment professional wishes every patient that comes their way will follow their recommendations and make good decisions for their health, this simply isn’t realistic. For many people, it takes time to accept that they have a problem and need to get help. This process takes a good deal of patience. Instead of lecturing a patient or trying to solve their problems for them, treatment professionals should listen to them and try to see things from their perspective. Only then can they understand what caused their substance use disorder in the first place. It’s also important to celebrate the patient’s small victories along the way, even if they aren’t yet where the treatment provider wants them to be. If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance use disorder, our team at Dream Recovery is here to help. Call (949) 732-1960 today to learn more about the services we provide.

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